kid-friendly · Recipes

Butternut Squash, Sage & Sweet Chicken Sheet Pan Meal

Years ago, I saw this on one of those online Trader Joe’s recipe forums where folks share the meals they make using only TJs ingredients. It took me until now to try it, with a few tweaks to suit our tastes, and it’s a definite keeper for weeknight cooking. It involves minimal cleanup and barely any prep, especially if you buy those grocery packages of chopped fresh butternut squash instead of rasslin’ with a whole one yourself. I chose to use poultry seasoning here because it’s quick to grab in the produce section pre-packaged and we like the taste of it; you could swap it for something you like better. It WILL make your house smell like Thanksgiving morning!

I’ll also point out that you can swap another kind of squash, too. This recipe isn’t fussy. We really like caramelized red onions, but again, any type will do.

Butternut Squash, Sage & Sweet Chicken Sheet Pan Meal

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 a butternut squash, cubed (or buy pre-cut; it’s much easier)
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 package chicken sausage, halved (I used TJ’s apple maple flavor)
  • 1 packet poultry seasoning (thyme, sage, rosemary)
  • 4-6 garlic cloves (peeled and left whole)
  • olive oil for the pan
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350F. Prep the squash, sausage, garlic and onion.

On a sheet pan lined with foil, lay out the squash, onions and sausage links and drizzle with olive oil, shaking to coat. Nestle the garlic cloves and whole branches of herbs around the edges for flavoring. Season the entire tray with salt and pepper to taste, then place in the oven.

Cook between 20-30 minutes, stirring halfway through, or until everything looks browned and the squash are cooked through. Times may vary depending on your oven.

Discard the sage, rosemary and thyme — it’s ok if a few pieces stay on the food — and keep the garlic and the onion if you like them. They should be softened and mellowed out in taste, and thus OK to eat. Taste for seasoning and add more if you feel it’s needed. Serve warm!

I love this because it only uses one tray, so cleanup is fast.

I actually had a whole butternut squash hanging around, so I used half of it here and then roasted the other half, cubed, in a smaller baking sheet on the rack below this in the oven and ate it later in the week with a rotisserie chicken I bought on the way home from work. Done that way, you get two easy after-work dinners out of it!

Georgia loved eating the tender roasted squash and the sweet sausage, too. Trader Joe’s has so many varieties of chicken sausage and you could use any of them here. You could also use spicier sausage instead of sweet, but it will make the dish that much greasier and a tad less healthy. The whole point, though, is that it’s customizable, cheap, and doubles well if you have a larger family. If you try it, let me know what you think!

 

Baby & Toddler · Grow Your Own Way · Recipes

Sneaking veggies into food (with toddler-friendly risotto recipe)

Well, I suppose it was inevitable: the day where my toddler figured out junk food exists in the world, and that she’d prefer to eat cookies, fruit juice and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese than mom’s home cooking. Hoping it’s just a short-lived phase, I’ve adapted by sneaking in greens where I can and holding a firm line on her requests to snack the day away. “More?” “Cookie!” and “Mine” are her new favorite words, especially when pointing to mom’s coffee, a bag of fruit snacks or (cringe) the drive-through menu.

There are a couple key things I’ve done to get through this temporary eating issue.

One is to make smoothies with greens like celery and lettuce blended in, since they add nutrients without turning the flavor detectably non-fruity.

Secondly, we’ve gone back to sending fruit & veggie pouches to daycare for snack time. She sucks them down as readily as her applesauce pouches without realizing there are greens mixed in with those pears and apples.

Since she loves mac n’ cheese so much, I’ve tried to make my own more often, and to buy better boxed versions from Trader Joe’s and Annie’s — as well as to mix in peas, diced green beans or broccoli, since covering them with cheese seems to get her to accept more veggies. 

I also shredded carrots into my homemade marinara, and she was none the wiser.

Finally, last week I realized I had a very adaptable recipe in my arsenal: risotto. By finely dicing carrots, onions, celery and celery greens with cut up sweet chicken-apple sausage, and swirling in a spoon full of low-fat cream cheese right at the end, I made a toddler-friendly version of one of our favorite dishes.

IMG_9955

IMG_9981

She not only finished some off of our plates, she ate it by herself for lunch the next day, and even scooped a handful out of my bag while I was packing up leftovers to take to work! So we know it’s a keeper.

Here are my other two favorite risotto recipes:

An important note: I do choose to leave in the step with white wine, even while cooking for Georgia, because it’s a critical component to the final texture of the arborio rice. However, omitting it won’t ruin the dish completely, if that’s what you’d prefer to do.

In other news, Mark and Georgia planted our garden this weekend! This year, we are having strawberries, peas, tomatoes and basil:

IMG_0007

IMG_0006

IMG_0008

This is a kid who loves getting her hands dirty! I went online pretty much right away and ordered her this gardening play set from Green Toys, and already it’s a huge hit. She loves to help daddy with the soil, seeds and plants!

green_toys_watering_can

Have a great week everyone and get out there to enjoy some nice weather now that it’s here to stay 🙂

Recipes

Mark’s Pillsbury Crescent Sausage Rolls

For those of you who have become devoted fans of reading about my wife’s cooking adventures, hello! I’m the fan devoted to eating everything you’ve read about. Husband and baby daddy Mark here, and I’m pumped to be guest writing on my wife’s blog. 

IMG_7527

Now like I said, my wife’s the cook, I just do the eating, but I do have one or two dishes that I can do, and one of them happens to be an appetizer that is great for many reasons. One, it’s a finger food that doesn’t leave your fingers sticky. Two, it’s a crowd pleaser that never has leftovers, but most importantly, Three, and this is for you ladies, it’s so easy, EVEN A HUSBAND CAN DO IT!!!! There are even accounts of fiances, boyfriends, and common-law roommates being able to complete this dish. So here it is, my Pillsbury Crescent Sausage Rolls.

IMG_7537

Now I know we’re all busy right now, watching our elected officials compete for who can more calmly announce the End Times via Blizzard, but once the roads are passable and you’re done shoveling out, when you can run to the grocery store the good news is you only need TWO ingredients for this dish, and they’re both in the refrigerated section.

IMG_7536

INGREDIENTS

  • One package of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
  • One 16 oz. package of Jimmy Dean Sausage (I prefer Regular, but if you need a kick in your Super Bowl snack, they also make a Hot)

PREP/KEEP IN MIND:

The Pillsbury Crescent Rolls are easiest to work with when they remain cooler, so don’t take out the package and leave it on the counter while you look for a cookie sheet. Also, the Jimmy Dean sausage is sometimes sold refrigerated, sometimes frozen. If you’ve been keeping it in the freezer, make sure it’s fully defrosted in the fridge before beginning.

IMG_8140

DIRECTIONS

1) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Open up Crescent Rolls and lay out the rectangles onto a non-stick cookie sheet. If you bought a package of six crescent rolls, you’ll have three rectangles of two triangles each.
2) Spread the ground sausage evenly across all three rectangles of Pillsbury.
3) Roll up the three rectangles the long way, so that you have three long rolls.
4) Slice the rolls into bite size pieces.
5) Spread them out across the cookie sheet so that none are touching.
6) Toss into your pre-heated oven and cook for 12-15 minutes. Some will prefer a doughier taste, some a crunchier taste, so just keep an eye on them, but dudes, remember, opening the oven door will make the whole process take longer.
7) Dump into a bowl and serve to the excited throngs.

IMG_7526

If oven time is at a premium on Game Day, you can always throw these puppies in the fridge after Step 5 and throw them into the oven whenever the VP of Kitchen and Life Organization deems it convenient. This appetizer, combined with my wife’s beloved Kielbasa and Brown Sugar recipe, will give your Superbowl Party all the protein deliciousness you could possibly desire!! Enjoy everyone and Go Pats!!!!

IMG_7535

Recipes · Tips and Tricks

Shortcutting Risotto

This isn’t earth-shattering, but due to a cooking mistake I learned that you can pre-make part of risotto to save yourself time, and it still comes out A-OK. I always assumed that if you made the rice ahead of time, it would turn to glue on reheating. Apparently, by under-cooking the rice just a bit, you can successfully reheat it later in a big pot with another cup or two of water or stock, and get dinner on the table faster than making risotto start-to-finish at one time. I had to do this last week because, in the middle of making this for dinner, I realized that the sausage I’d just purchased had already gone bad. Oh no!

IMG_6603

That night, we had no choice but to order takeout and call it a day. So I packed up the already-cooked risotto into the fridge and bought some more sausage and onions this weekend, hoping I could revive the dish.

Here’s what I did: I set the large stock pot over low, added the cold risotto with two cups of water, and slowly stirred while cooking the add-ins (in this case, a chopped red pepper and sliced chicken apple sausage). As I’ve written before, risotto is very versatile and takes to almost any ingredient. I just saute the add-ins separately in a pan with minimal, if any, oil; then they get combined with the risotto right at the end, before I shred in some cheese.

It came out just fine, and we were able to have a hearty dinner that night with plenty of leftovers for the week. I was glad that the sausage mishap didn’t mean throwing out all those other ingredients, too! There’s nothing I hate more than wasting food.

The best way to save time with risotto, in my opinion, is to pre-saute your add-ins the day before, and that way you only have to focus on cooking the rice itself the night you’re serving it. It saves you lots of prep time. You could even chop your onion the night before so it’s ready to start off the dish the next day after work. But if you have to do it the way I did, just make sure to reserve some stock or water for re-heating and season it well with salt and plenty of grated cheese so the flavor doesn’t fall flat.

What are your short-cut secrets to getting an involved dinner on the table quickly on weeknights? I’d love to know!

Recipes

Rotini with Sweet Italian Sausage & Spaghetti Squash

Did you know how easy it is to make spaghetti squash? I recently learned how, so I wanted to share a quick tutorial. Then I needed something to serve it with, so of course I turned to pasta! I’m Italian, it’s getting cold out, and I have a carb-hungry toddler to feed. I got the inspiration for this pasta from a former co-worker whose wife made a similar dish that came out so well he raved about it on Facebook (what a guy!) I thought, “you know what? I haven’t simmered sausage in tomato sauce for a really long time. I’ll bet Mark would like that.” So I did. And he did.

IMG_5700

Rotini with Sweet Italian Sausage

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package sweet (not hot) Italian sausage
  • 1 lb. rotini pasta, or similar shape
  • 1 jar marinara sauce, preferably something simple (I chose chunky roasted tomato and garlic from Classico, which is among the healthier brands)
  • grated cheese for topping, such as parmesan
  • optional: eggplant (I had some leftover from another recipe, sliced and grilled with fresh tomatoes, so I added it into the sauce)

DIRECTIONS

In a skillet, cook the sausage over medium either in an inch of water or plain in the pan until they start to brown. I chose to break mine up with the spoon to cook faster, but you can also leave them whole and then simmer longer once you add the sauce so they cook through and stay moist. You can choose to keep the fat and pan scrapings, or drain them off before adding the sauce.

Meanwhile, in a separate (good sized) pot, boil water for the pasta and cook until al-dente; drain and set aside.

When the sausage is sufficiently browned, add the eggplant (if using) to the pan, then the jar of tomato sauce. Cook on low until the flavors meld, as long as half an hour if you’d like. Finally, add both into the reserved pot of drained pasta, and cook on low for a couple minutes so the flavors blend.

Top with freshly grated cheese, such as parmesan.

IMG_5701

Now what better to pair with this hearty pasta than a light fluffy squash? The kind you can cook in a jiffy? Enter our spaghetti squash. Here are the simple steps to cooking this tasty vegetable, which I’ve seen people serve like they do regular spaghetti, complete with tomato sauce and other pasta toppings. I’m not sure it would quite satisfy my carb cravings that way, but I know many folks who swear by it as the staple of a weight-loss diet. I think it makes a lovely side, and all you have to do after cooking is top it with shredded cheese — or have it plain!

HOW TO: COOK SPAGHETTI SQUASH

I don’t know why I thought this was difficult, but it’s beyond easy. As long as you have a high-quality, sharp knife and a sturdy cutting board, the hardest part is the first slice to cut it in half.

Step by Step

1) Preheat the oven to 400.

2) Cut the squash in half and scrape out the seeds (they’ll look similar to pumpkin seeds) and discard.

3) Place face down in a glass baking dish and pour in water until the edges of each half are just submerged.

4) Cover with tinfoil and cook for at least 30 minutes in the oven, or until tender when poked with a fork.

5) Transfer to a bowl and scrape out the “spaghetti” strands with a fork.

6) Top with cheese or serve plain. That’s it!

In other news, have a great Halloween tonight! Maybe check out this network of dentists that will buy your extra candy to make care packages for the troops? — and while you’re watching the sweets, go easy on the soda, too! Apparently it can age you as much as a daily smoking habit. If you’re near a Chipotle tonight, you’re entitled to free goodies for showing up in costume. And when we are all candied out, this is the refreshing-looking fruit I’m going to share with G (all the yum, no tedious chopping and scooping just to get to the good parts). Speaking of G, here she is at our office “trick or treat” party, sporting her ladybug getup a few days early 🙂

Stay safe tonight!

Recipes

Updating an old standby

When I do my Trader Joe’s run every few weeks, I always make a point of picking up the ingredients for this recipe because they are all pantry staples that never spoil and can pull together into a super basic meal very quickly. Pasta, sauce, and artichokes are a yummy combo, but the other night I made this and realized I had a couple other ingredients on hand that made it a little more special!

IMG_5956

I added in Kalamata olives (refrigerated, from Trader Joe’s), sun dried tomatoes and a few sliced pepperoncini that gave it the heat equivalent of red pepper flakes, and WOW — it was like a whole other dish! I realized that next time I should save some leftover sweet sausage if I make it on the weekend and crumble that in, and I think that would make it perfection. Chicken would also be delicious in here but sadly I didn’t have any on hand! I’m definitely going to make it this way from now on. Especially since it makes great toddler leftovers, too.

BASE RECIPE — Penne with Artichokes

  • 1 can three-cheese tomato sauce from Trader Joe’s (or similar)
  • 1 can artichoke hearts in water, rinsed and chopped smaller
  • 1 lb. penne pasta, cooked al dente

ADD-INS — mix and match

  • sliced pepperoncini and a dash of their liquid
  • sun dried tomatoes (not in oil, if you can help it)
  • Kalamata olives (Trader Joe’s refrigerated, or similar)
  • crumbled cooked sweet Italian Sausage
  • Leftover shredded chicken
  • what else??? you tell me!

Ugh this was so good that I almost ate two portions the other night when I was just lounging in my PJs trying to get caught up on Scandal! <<ahem>> I mean doing laundry and putting away clothes instead of leaving them in folded piles on my husband’s dresser.

Trader Joe’s had some fun, new ingredients the last time I visited, including cold brew coffee concentrate, coconut cookies, ghee (clarified butter),  coconut oil cooking spray and pomegranate vinegar. And of course, who can live without their pear cider at this time of year?? I’ll be sharing a recipe for using that cider to make some yummy apple topping for cooked pork chops in another week or two. I was so disappointed to see that they discontinued their mobile app, which featured lots of new foods just coming into stores. I guess I’ll just have to keep going in person to see what’s new and interesting.

Have a great week everyone!

Recipes

Skillet Gnocchi with Sausage and Tomatoes

Hi everyone! What a whirlwind couple of weeks. I was off for half of last week planning the Georgia Peach party — photos coming soon! — and having fun in Boston with visiting family. Now, Georgia has had the stomach flu for two days straight, and Mark and I have been alternating staying home with her…and next week we will be flying to Myrtle Beach for vacation with Gramps and Nan! So here’s a quick and easy recipe I tried and loved recently. It’s perfect for using up all those late summer tomatoes and extra basil from the garden. Enjoy!

IMG_4212

This recipe inspiration comes via thekitchn.com.

Skillet Gnocchi with Sausage & Tomatoes

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb. gnocchi
  • 1 package chicken sausage, any flavor, sliced into coins
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • a handful or two of fresh basil, julienned
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

First, heat a medium size pot of water to boiling and cook the gnocchi for two or three minutes, then drain; toss with olive oil in a room-temp bowl and set aside.

In a large cast-iron skillet (or dutch oven, like my Le Creuset), heat a light drizzle of olive oil over medium. Add the sausage and cook over for a few minutes or until they start to brown. Push the sausage to the side in the skillet and turn the heat up to high.

With the skillet very hot, add the tomatoes face down, cramming if you have to. Cook for a couple of minutes or until they are blistered.

Stir in the sausage. Cook for a few more minutes or until the sausage and tomatoes are both browned. Finally, add in the gnocchi and stir until just combined but before the tomatoes have broken down.

Remove from the skillet and stir in the basil strips. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

TIPS

  • You can use a non-stick or other type of skillet, but you won’t achieve the same browning effect as cast iron.
  • You can use any type of sausage you like, including spicier varieties or even imitation sausage links to make this vegetarian-friendly. Both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s carry great options for meat-free “sausage” links.
  • I love making this as colorful as possible by grabbing orange and yellow tomatoes, if you can find them.
  • Don’t let the tomatoes cook too long or you’ll very quickly find that you have a sauce instead! You want to take them off the heat just before this happens.
  • Be careful not to heat the cast iron skillet too high at the outset. The cardinal rule of cast iron is that it heats up VERY fast, and is very difficult to cool down from there. ‘Medium’ on cast iron is probably going to feel like ‘high heat’ on nonstick.
  • I wouldn’t personally add cheese to this, but you can if you want!
  • Heats up well as leftovers, and tastes great with Pinot Grigio on a hot night 🙂

PSST — speaking of pasta, tomatoes and basil! — a new book I’m excited about just got released for pre-order. I already love Chloe’s Kitchen, so why wouldn’t I race to grab Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen? She’s the inspiration for my creamy Vegan Pesto, Vegan Spinach and Artichoke Dip, and more. Even if you aren’t vegan, her recipes are always simple and fun, and great for adapting your favorite guilty recipes to be lower calorie as well as safe for friends with lactose intolerance.

chloes_vegan_italian

Have a great weekend, everyone!

IMG_4204

Recipes

Trader Joe’s Tag: Chimichurri Rice with Chicken Sausage

Y’all know I love me some Trader Joe’s. So when I discover a new recipe that only uses TJ’s ingredients, I’m doubly excited! We go there for groceries probably every two or three weeks, pick up a few of our favorites plus a couple of new treats, and fill in the regular food haul from Target, the farmer’s market, or (if we have to) Shaw’s or Stop n’ Shop (so expensive!) This one has a slight kick that’s balanced nicely by the sweet sausage. It goes freezer-to-table in a flash.

20140805-123909-45549756.jpg

This has a moderate level of spice to it, and easily turns from a side dish into a full meal with the addition of sausage links and fresh vegetables. You can use any variety of sausage you prefer. The seasonings in the rice include garlic, ginger, creme fraiche, cilantro and pepper.

20140805-133309-48789110.jpg

Chimichurri Rice with Chicken-Apple Sausage & Fresh Peas

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 bag Trader Joe’s Peruvian-style Chimichurri Rice (frozen)
  • 1 package chicken sausage, any variety you like (we chose apple)
  • 1/2 pound fresh sugar snap peas, ends trimmed

DIRECTIONS

In a good-sized skillet over medium heat, cook the sausage slices until just starting to brown. Add the veggies (in my case, peas) and cook for just a few minutes. Add the entire bag of frozen chimichurri rice to the pan and cook, stirring, until heated through. Enjoy hot with a glass of crisp white wine!

20140805-143833-52713150.jpg

I had lots of extra peas left over from the huge farmer’s market bag after eye-balling the amount for this recipe. I eat them raw, dip them in ranch dressing, or steam them, sometimes garnished with lemon zest or mint. And of course, they make the perfect addition to any stir-fry or grain salad. And they’re so plentiful right now!

In baby news, we suddenly have a big girl on our hands — her first birthday party planning is in full swing, she took her first steps this weekend, and she’s moving into the “transition room” (1-2 years) at day care today (SOB!) She’s not shy about exploring our house these days, including the stairs, cat food dishes, DVD player and breakable vases. It’s never a dull moment. Last weekend, she and daddy had a special breakfast date together while mom got her nails done!


Minted's Limited Edition Art Prints

Recipes

Baked Ziti

Heads up — this is a Weight Watchers recipe! I wish I could say it’s because I’m finally losing my last 5 baby pounds, but (typical) it’s because Mark booked a role for the summer that involves several shirtless scenes, so he ran right out and bought a FitBit and is now on a health crusade.

20140422-102457.jpg

(I’ll just point out that those crescent roll biscuits you see in the background are not part of the health-food diet.)

This is an easy pasta dish, made more healthful with reduced fat ricotta and mozzarella. You can use ziti, penne or any other tubular pasta that stands up well to being baked. I always undercook the pasta when it’s boiling so that it doesn’t get too soft in the oven. And I find that using canned tomato sauce is just fine as long as it’s a quality brand and ideally organic as well.

20140422-102515.jpg

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound pasta
  • cooking spray for the baking dish
  • 3/4 pound part-skim ricotta
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 4 cups marinara sauce, divided (you could also use diced tomatoes)
  • 1/2 pound shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
  • red pepper flakes (add more or less to your taste)
  • fresh basil for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350. Prep a casserole dish or any oven-safe baking dish with cooking spray.

Cook pasta according to package directions, taking off the heat a bit early so the pasta doesn’t overcook; drain and rinse under cold water.

While pasta is cooking, combine ricotta, 3 TBSP Parmesan, red pepper flakes (if using; I just added a dash) and 1/3 C marinara sauce in a medium bowl.

To assemble, spoon 1/2 C sauce on the bottom of the casserole dish, add half the cooked pasta, spoon the ricotta mixture over, then spoon remaining sauce on top.

Top with remaining pasta, spoon the rest of the sauce on top, then sprinkle with mozzarella and remaining Parmesan.

Bake until cheese melts and is bubbly, about 20 to 30 minutes. Allow dish to sit for another 10 or 15 minutes before plating.

Optional: garnish with fresh basil ribbons.

If portioned into 12 servings, each one will have a 7 points value for those on Weight Watchers.

We had this with extra sauce on the side, plus some meatballs and Italian sausage and also those yummy biscuits and organic corn from Trader Joe’s. You could also add lean ground beef to the sauce (real or imitation) to make it meatier but still healthful. Simple and satisfying, perfect for Sunday dinner with family.

 Did you like this recipe? Share it! 

20140505-213129.jpg

 

Recipes

Mango Chicken Risotto

This risotto combines mango chicken sausage with roasted red peppers for a sweet, filling, simple meal. It comes together fairly quickly and will give you plenty of comfort-food leftovers! I make it often for Mark when his work schedule is nightly, because it’s easy for him to reheat when he has to eat dinner earlier than I get home from work.

20130410-195221.jpg

As I mentioned in my last risotto post, Springtime Risotto with leeks and peas, risotto makes great leftovers. It reheats very well and a little goes a long way ~ if you ask me, it actually tastes better a day old. In Italy, this is a popular lunch choice, especially for kids who come home between morning and afternoon classes to eat. (My springtime risotto post has great step-by-step risotto instructions for first timers, so definitely check it out if you’re new to making risotto and want a simple breakdown. There’s no reason to be intimidated by this dish ~ it’s simpler than people make it sound!)

20130410-195612.jpg

They key ingredient is real Arborio rice, not regular white or brown rice. Arborio is an Italian short-grain rice that is high in starch and absorbs lots of liquid to give you a creamy finished product. When I lived in Italy, I learned that risotto is truly a staple — you can throw just about any leftover veggies into it with whatever meat or seafood sounds good to you (if any).

20130410-195505.jpg

The second key ingredient is stock, which you’ll add warm to the rice in stages. I have used both vegetable and chicken stock when making risotto, depending on the crowd I’m serving (veg or otherwise). Both taste just fine; I’d only recommend that you stay away from low-sodium broth unless you absolutely have to for health reasons, because risotto needs all the flavor boost it can get, and seasonings are important.

Once the stock boils, you’ll want to keep it at a medium simmer — not so high that it starts to burn off, but not so low that it cools down, either. You need it hot to mix into the risotto properly.

20130410-195442.jpg

I cook the sausage and red peppers together when I have non-vegetarians eating the dish, and separately when it’s for folks who don’t want the meat touching the veggies. Since you’re adding it all into the pot at the end anyway, it doesn’t affect how the dish turns out. And you can use any kind of sausage you like! Real, fake, chicken or pork, spicy or sweet. I often make this meal with roasted red pepper sausage, which I find at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, when I want a savory version. I’m pretty sure you could find similar in the natural grocery section of any store.

20130410-195355.jpg

First you’ll saute the chopped onions until translucent (you can also use leeks) in a liberal amount of olive oil and butter; each helps the other not to burn. Then, by adding the rice to the buttery onions before adding any liquid, you help coat the risotto with fat which will prevent that mushy starchy thing from happening. Then, you’ll add a splash of white wine. You can also omit the wine if you need to, although most of the alcohol will burn off and very little is retained in the final dish. After the wine, you’ll do a cup of water before you start adding the simmering broth. When you add liquid, stir immediately until the rice absorbs it and before it can stick to the bottom of the pan.

By repeating over and over in small increments until the rice has absorbed all the broth in the pan, you’ll achieve that creamy yet slightly al dente perfection of authentic risotto! Add in your meat and veggies, then top with freshly grated parmesan and pecorino cheese (which is nice and salty), and serve warm.

20130410-195328.jpg

Mango Chicken Risotto

hands-on time: 30 minutes    Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 cups arborio rice (1 package from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 large carton (or 2 cans) vegetable stock
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced and seeded
  • 1 package mango chicken sausage (or any kind you like), sliced thin
  • parmesan and pecorino cheese, roughly grated
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • water, as needed
  • olive oil and butter
  • splash of white wine (optional)

Directions

Set a sauce pan on medium-high and pour in the stock. Once it reaches boiling, reduce heat and keep the stock at a low simmer, so it doesn’t burn off  but stays warm. I usually add two cups of water to the broth a well, to help it go farther.

Meanwhile, chop the onion and add it to a large stock pot with equal parts olive oil and butter; stir until melted, well coated and translucent.

Chop the red peppers and slice the sausage and start cooking over medium-low in a saute pan on another burner. You can cook these separately if you have vegetarians eating this; that way, you customize each plate.

Add all the rice at once and stir to coat.

Pour a healthy splash of white wine into the pan and stir briskly to reduce. Next, add about a cup of water and stir until absorbed.

Then, start adding the simmering stock, one cupful at a time, stirring constantly to prevent sticking.

Once the stock is gone, taste test; if the rice is too al dente, add water gradually until it achieves the right texture — firm but not stiff, and before it gets soggy.

Grate parmesan and pecorino directly into the pan. Pick a not-too-small grater and be heavy handed with the cheese.

Taste; add salt and pepper if needed.

Serve with white wine or a nice cold beer!

risotto copy